President signs restrictive media bill

New York, July 5, 2006 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by the passage today of legislation that further restricts press freedom in the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan. President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law a bill passed by Parliament in June that CPJ believes gives the state unlimited power to close independent and opposition media outlets for technical and administrative violations.

Local and international media organizations opposed the amendments to Kazakhstan’s   press laws which tighten media registration requirements, and close loopholes that allowed shuttered publications to resurface under a new name.

“We are concerned that these amendments will make the already embattled independent press in Kazakhstan even more vulnerable to government harassment,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Kazakh authorities to scrap them immediately.”

The U.S. State Department and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called on President Nazarbayev to veto the amendments last week. Kazakhstan is bidding for the OSCE presidency in 2009.

Tamara Kaleyeva, president of the Almaty-based press freedom group Adil Soz, told CPJ the legislation could be used as a pretext for the government to deny registration to independent and opposition media, to harass them with fines, and threaten them with closure.

Of particular concern are amendments to Articles 10 and 11 of the Kazakh media law.

The amendments stipulate that no media outlet can be registered if it uses the same name, in full or in part, of a media outlet previously closed down by a court; they bar editors of media outlets previously shuttered by a court from working for other publications; they increase the grounds on which registration can be denied to new outlets; and they require re-registration for outlets in case of administrative changes, such as change of mailing address or staff changes. Violations are punishable by heavy fines or closure.

Until now, many independent publications have resorted to publishing under different names to avoid politicized lawsuits and bureaucratic harassment, CPJ research shows.   Local press quoted Minister of Culture and Information, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, as saying the amendments were needed to reduce the number of outlets, and to safeguard the public’s trust in the Kazakh media.